2015 Alaska Ocean Camp Review

10 people, 8 days, 80 mile return trip, on an adventure of a lifetime. This trip was rich with Leaders, Instructors and Instructor Trainers from the American Canoe Association.

Sweeping vistas, glacial ice fields, nearby snow caped mountains, Whales, Sea otters, sea lions, grizzly bears, were just a few of the things we saw.

In June of 2015, we headed to Southeast Alaska’s rugged Yakobi Island for a week of training and journeying in the Alaskan wilderness. Lying just off the western edge of Chichagof Island, Yabobi is an ocean paddling playground in the middle of Alaskan wilderness! Whales, seals and sea lions ply the waters beneath rugged mountains and glaciers, creating a surreal backdrop as we paddle these amazing waters. Nearby hot springs and salmon runs only add to the uniqueness of our base location in protected Greentop Cove. The Cove gave us immediate access to areas of tidal flow, rock gardens and Pacific Ocean swell. Coaches utilized the environment to craft individualized learning experiences aimed at intermediate and advancing paddlers.

Our full crew before leaving Juneau

Our full crew before leaving Juneau

Upon arrival in Juneau, our group boarded sea planes for the village of Hoonah. We were greeted in Hoonah by our friends and members of the Tlingit Native Nation from Icy Strait Kayak Company. Ora and his crew are part of the land and know where fishing, sea lion rookeries and whales watching opportunities are best. Beyond intimate local knowledge, Ora also owns a fleet of beautiful Tiderace Sea Kayaks,plastic boats from Valley and Wilderness Systems were also used during OC Alaska.

??????????????????????The next leg of our journey utilized 2 water taxis to travel the final 80 miles to our base. Our Pilot, Zach, and his company Gustavus Water Taxi not only provided professional service, but also pointed out features we would encounter on our return.

DSCN3255 (1024x768) “Home” for our first four days was a 2 story cabin before we embarked on a 4 day wilderness journey back to Hoonah. With spectacular outer coast conditions at our fingertips (and a natural hot springs pool a few miles paddle away), Greentop Cove provided the perfect ocean learning environment.
Each day was a new experience as we focused on boat handling in currents (up to 5+ knots in this area), waves, wind, rocks and surf! The remoteness of the area, tidal paddling and open water navigation was a sure to challenge our paddlers during the training. A spectacular four day journey from Greentop Cove to Hoonah wrapped up our trip in style!


Coaching for this course was provided by Ryan Rushton & Jeff Forseth:

??????????????????????Ryan is an ACA L5 Instructor Trainer, BCU 5 Star Leader and registered member of the International Sea Kayak Guide Association. Ryan teaches at some of the top international sea kayak symposia including Lumpy Waters, Golden Gate and Bay of Fundy and brings a wealth of leadership/coaching experience in Alaska.  Ryan is possibly the only coach in the world working on the Outer Coast of Alaska, and has lead several training expeditions in Alaska (Whittier to Seward-2011 and Seward to Homer-2013) and has taught several courses (ACA L4 Skills Training in Kachemak Bay, GKC Ocean Camp Alaska 2012 & 2014).

DSCN3421Jeff is an ACA L4 Coastal Kayak instructor, BCU 4 Star Sea Leader, and well weathered wilderness guide. Jeff has been an instructor  at Inland Sea Symposium, Great Lakes Sea Kayak Symposium, Traditional Paddlers Gathering and many years teaching for his local club, Inland Sea Kayakers. He has also been assistant coach at specialized events for renowned coaches Ryan Rushton, Ben Lawry, John Carmody and Mark Tozer. Jeff, along with his wife, co-instructor and paddling partner Michelle, have also led trips and teach classes at venues such as the Mississippi River, Lake Superior, and the coasts of Georgia and Maine.


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Review: February 2015, BCU 5 Star Training San Francisco

A group of 7 student came together for a 5 day training course to improve our skills in more challenging environments and prepare for 4 or 5 Star Award Assessments. Gathering in San Francisco, paddlers from California, North Carolina and Minnesota collected for two classes, BCU 5 Star Training course and Open Water and Tidal Planning, taught by Jen Kleck and John Carmody.

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“Where Water Meets Land” class


This summer, Michelle and I taught 2 classes that are new to our local club (Inland Sea Kayakers): “Where Water Meets Land” , or as we nickname it: WWML and look forward to doing it again. A total of 12 students went through these classes and had a lot of fun. Besides learning the new skills of paddling close to rocks along with rescue strategies, we also journeyed to an inland lake and the Susie Islands to work on navigation skills.

WWML (Where Water Meets Land)



“Thanks a ton for a great weekend up north.  I had a blast weaving between the rocks and watching the group get more confident.  Thank you for leading and teaching!  Well done. ” S.G.


Review by Deb Strike:

Wow this class was serious FUN.   It could also be named where skills meet reality.  Lots of things to learn and do, it was the kind of class a paddler could take many times and always be challenged.   The instructors have kept the class small so each participant gets challenged within their comfort level.

The first day was a quick review of strokes that would be useful as we moved closer and closer to the rocks.  Eventually playing “pat the walrus” with our new confidence and skills.  OK,  so some of us left a little gel coat here and there, but nothing serious.

We learned different kinds of rocks form different kinds of water patterns.  Overfalls can be fun, but watch out or you might get parked on a rock. Experiencial learning was going on all the time.  As a group we decided to do some contact rescues near the rocks and we each got several attempts to clean up our strokes to get close enough to rescue someone.

Clean strokes and manuevers were a goal and the water quickly instructed us on technique.  We learned why you don’t want your paddle at too much of an angle or out too far when doing a bow rudder. It also helps to be decisive, but that is a work in progress.  A longer term goal would be to link the strokes and have them become unconcious or automatic. We each set individual goals and got individual coaching.

Day two was a paddle to the Susie Islands to do some distance, navigate and practice what we learned on day 1.   The weather and the lake provided ongoing teaching.  The fog rolled in and the weather changed, so the instructors changed the curriculum.  We paddled out quickly and safely by handrailing.

Day three the wind and waves dictated the schedule.  Instead of paddling to the Palisades and practicing amoung the rocks, we did launching and landing in waves, turning in waves and around rocks in the swells.   Who knew we were too slow putting on our spray skirts. This is something calmer conditions don’t reveal.   We had races putting on spray skirts using gloves and keeping track of paddles.   It was the little things that became important.

The town of Grand Marais puts on some mighty fine fireworks and if it is raining you can just head into town and eat at one of the very good restaurants there.  We all enjoyed that.

If you want to move out of practicing on flat water to learn and apply some of the strokes and manuevers you have learned take this class.  It is just too much fun to pass up.

Many thanks to Jeff and Michelle for the superb coaching.


Train for the worst; Hope for the best.